Japanese Art – Kamajura And Tokyo As Centers Of Art

Historical Kamakura has become a popular summer resort where wealthy people live who are weary of city life and seek uninterrupted rest and peace. However, what makes Kamakura intrinsically important and attractive all the year round, is its projection of old Buddhist monasteries and Shinto shrines, which survived the first feudal age in Japan and all succeeding political changes. This shows how important and indispensable was the spiritual culture through all those ages and how dear to the human mind. It would be highly instructive to find what is essentially permanent in life and to study the outward expression such as form and color of the works of art which were bequeathed by the Kamakura Period (1186-1333).

Kamakura became the seat of government of the first Japanese feudalism toward the end of the 12th century, which position it occupied for about one century and a half. During this period, Kamakura became infused with new life, when intercourse with China was re-established and the Zen sect of Buddhism was introduced. The new sect brought about a remarkable change in the esthetic appreciation of the people, especially among the military class. Simplicity and boldness developed in exact contradiction to the delicacy and feminine beauty of the court nobles in the preceding period. This new spirit began to express itself in painting, sculpture and architecture. A number of examples of sculpture and painting are to be seen in Kamakura today, but those of architecture are very rare.

In the compound of the Tsurugaoka Hachiman shrine stands the Kokuho-kwan Museum, in which a number of fine examples of Kamakura sculpture are always on view ; and some representative masterpieces of painting of the Kamakura Period, loaned by Buddhist monasteries, are shown from time to time in the gallery.

The Tsurugaoka Hachiman shrine was founded by the Genji family as its tutelary god. However, it was often destroyed by fire, and the present building erected in the Edo Period (1615–1866) has been recently repaired. Its style is called Gongen-zukuri, which is one of the most popular forms of the Shinto shine during the Edo Period.

In the treasury of this shrine is a unique example of sculpture in wood. It represents Benzaiten, the Goddess of Music, a nude figure in a sitting position and holding a musical instrument, a biwa or lute. However, the beauty of the nude was not meant to be admired, but to be clothed in different ways like a living person. Such was the appreciation of nude figures in old Japan.

Among the greatest monasteries of the Zen sect in Kamakura is that of the Engaku-ji which contains some important examples of paintings produced in Japan and others introduced from China. They are not shown to the public, a few, however, have been loaned by the Kokuho-kwan Museum described above. This monastery was founded in 1282 by Tokimune, a famous dictator of the Hojo family. The original buildings were all lost except the Shariden, which is the only example of architecture of the period found in Kamakura. The large and thickly thatched roof gives a feeling of heaviness easily supported by the densely grouped brackets. The interior is simplicity itself, no colors being applied to any constructive members of the building.

The doctrine of Zen Buddhism is here expressed in a visible way.

In Kamakura is a colossal bronze statue of Amida Buddha known throughout the world as the famous ” Daibutsu of Kamakura.” It was cast at about the middle of the 13th century. The figure measures about 36 ft. in height, the length of the face measuring about 7 ft. It is unquestionably a masterpiece of Kamakura sculpture.

Near the Daibutsu stands the famous Hase-dera temple, in which is installed an eleven-headed Kwannon, about 30 ft. high. It is made of wood and overlaid with gold leaf. Besides these, none should fail to visit the Kencho-ji, another monastery of the Zen sect.

When Kamakura was at the height of its prosperity, Edo (present Tokyo) was occupied by Edo Taro and later by Ota Dokwan, who built Edo Castle. Finally Tokugawa Ieyasu settled there and established the firm peace of the feudal age which lasted about two centuries and a half (1615-1866), during which time Edo became the political as well as the cultural center of Japan. However, in the first year of Meiji (1868), the Imperial Court was removed from Kyoto to Edo, all administrative power was restored, and feudalism came to an end.. The name Edo was changed to Tokyo, Meaning, Eastern Capital. We shall now review the different phases of the cultural life of Tokyo.

Of the old Imperial Palace (Kyu -jo) there remain seven small castle towers, moats and stone walls, built at the time of the Tokugawa family. The three largest monasteries of the Edo Period (1615-1866), are found in Tokyo. They are the Zojo-ji monastery in Shiba Park, the Senso-ji monastery in Asakusa Park and the Kwan-ei-ji monastery in Ueno Park.

The Zojo-ji was made the tutelary monastery of the Tokugawa family in the 17th century. The original main buildings have disappeared today except the two-storied red gate, the oldest and largest temple gate in Tokyo.

In the precincts of this monastery are four magnificent mausoleums which were erected for the second, the sixth, the seventh Shoguns and the wife of the second Shogun; all of the Tokugawa family. The finest and most gorgeous building is the mausoleum of the second Shogun, which may be compared with the beautiful Nikko shrine, dedicated to the soul of the first Shogun Ieyasu. Completed in 1635, it is typical of mausoleum architecture developed in the early Edo Period, as it is a combination of Shinto and Buddhist styles.

In Asakusa Park stands the Senso-ji monastery, the main hall of which was built in the middle of the 17th century by the third Shogun lemitsu. It is the largest existing building of Buddhist architecture in Tokyo; it is always crowded with visitors who throng here day and night to offer up their prayers..

The Kwan-ei-ji monastery in Ueno Park was founded to protect Edo castle according to the advice of an eminent priest, Tenkai, highly respected by the first Shogun leyasu, and who enjoyed great favor in his government. In such circumstances the monastery was a magnificent edifice. However, there remain today only mausoleums of the fourth and fifth Shoguns, and a five-storied stupa which tells us something of the past glory of the monastery.

Tenkai also dedicated Tosho-gu shrine to the Shogun Ieyasu. It was rebuilt in 1651 and still stands near the five-storied stupa. It belongs to the Gongen-zukuri style of Shinto architecture, and the interior as well as exterior is elaborately decorated with carvings in rich colors and paintings.

Ueno Park also contains two art museums, Tokyo Imperial Household Museum and a museum belonging to the Tokyo Imperial School of Fine Art. Besides these museums there is the Tokyo Prefectural Art Gallery, where exhibitions of contemporary art are held in spring and autumn.

The Tokyo Imperial Household Museum, the largest art museum in Japan, was founded in 1882. The exhibits are divided into three departments, the Historical Department, the Fine Arts Department, and the Industrial Arts Department. The main building is now under reconstruction, and is expected to be completed by the end of 1937 ; until then exhibits are shown in the Hyokei-Kwan Hall which survived the great earthquake of 1923. The museum has a large collection of painting as well as some rare examples borrowed from temples and private collectors. Among the famous paintings are the picture of Fugen Bosatsu of the 11th century (Fig. 6) which expresses the ideal of feminine beauty as conceived by the people of those days ; and a famous landscape painting of the 15th century by Sesshü, in which the intrinsic appreciation of nature by the priest-painter of Zen Buddhism is most ably expressed. There is also that gorgeous pair of screens painted by Kano Sanraku in the early 17th century.

In the museum attached to the Tokyo Imperial School of Fine Art are placed on view Japanese and Chinese art.

There are two more art museums in Tokyo, besides those mentioned above. One is the museum railed Yushu-kwan situated in the precincts of the Yasukuni shrine at Kudan.

It contains Japanese arms and armor. Here one may enjoy the beauty of Japanese armor, decorated with colorful threads and leather, and highly-worked sword of every period.

The other museum, near the American Embassy, is the Okura Antiquity Museum, in which rare examples of Chinese art are shown and also those of Japanese art.